Aung San Suu Kyi: The Art of Negotiated Compromise
Peace X Peace CEO
“You must vote. You must use your democratic rights. Otherwise, they will fade away.” -Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi, who was in Washington DC last week, is the leader of the democracy movement in Burma/Myanmar who won election to parliament in April. I have long admired her courage and dedication to supporting the Burmese people, despite years of house arrest and harassment from the ruling Burma junta. I have read about her work and watched films about Burma, including the superb film about her life, called The Lady, released earlier this year. And when my family and I visited Burma in June, we asked to be driven by her home in Yangon, where we sat in admiration for all she has done for her country.
So it was a particular thrill to be invited to hear her speak in Washington DC, where she received the Congressional Gold Medal that was awarded in abstentia in 2008 when she was under house arrest. In introducing her, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said she represents the struggle for freedom, human rights, democracy, and peaceful resistance to oppression. Clinton noted Suu Kyi’s challenge of moving from protest to politics, from symbol to stateswoman, and said the US was committed to stand with the government and people to support and encourage reforms.
Suu Kyi explained we could call her country either Burma or Myanmar, but she prefers Burma since that was its name at independence. She talked about US-Burma bilateral relations, and gave a brief overview of the education and cultural exchanges that were important to her country. Yet the years of military rule hurt US-Burma relations, beginning in 1962, when Burma lost links with the West. After a half century of dictatorships, Burma has finally started on the path of democracy. Suu Kyi urged the easing of US sanctions because “it’s time for us to take responsibility for our own country and build our own democracy.” She said that sanctions were helpful in steering the regime toward reform and in focusing outside attention on Burma, but in many cases their usefulness has run its course.
What particularly struck me, especially during this political season in the US, was her comment that her party, the National League for Democracy, refused to make “easy promises” that it could not fulfill. “Some people tell me I’m not a real politician,” she joked. Yet I was reflecting on how much our politicians could learn from her. She stressed the importance of learning the art of compromise in the legislature, hoping this would spread into the wider culture. “To solve our problems we have to learn the art of negotiated compromise.” That is certainly true also for the US.
Suu Kyi emphasized the importance of participating in our democracy. “Don’t take it for granted,” she told the crowd, “You must vote. You must use your democratic rights. Otherwise, they will fade away.” These are sage words for our times. My admiration only increased as I listened to her steady, strong, and wise words not just for Burma, but for all of us.
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